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Washington Hospitalís Community Cancer Program Receives an Outstanding Achievement Award

April 21, 2010

Cancer Care: The Whole Is More Than Just the Sum of Its Parts
Program Receives Outstanding Achievement Award

Cancer. The word alone bears an enormous weight, and rightly so. In the United States, cancer represents the overall second leading cause of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"When a person receives a cancer diagnosis, it’s probably the one diagnosis that changes their life more than any other," says Washington Hospital’s Cancer Genetics Program Medical Director Dr. Vandana Sharma, M.D., Ph.D.

Furthering its reputation as a top provider for cancer care, Washington Hospital’s Community Cancer Program last month received an Outstanding Achievement Award from the Commission on Cancer (CoC) of the American College of Surgeons (ACS).

The hospital’s program has been an accredited program since 1993. The 2009 survey marks the first time Washington Hospital has been awarded the Outstanding Achievement Award (OAA), making it one of only four hospitals in California and one of 82 hospitals in the country to receive this recognition since inception of this award in 2005, according to Washington Hospital’s Tumor Registry Coordinator Marianne Heltzel, RHIT, CTR.

The ACS has several different types of hospital program designations, and Washington Hospital, Heltzel says, is a designated Community Hospital Comprehensive Cancer Program.

National standards for accreditation

Judged along national guidelines, CoC accreditation signifies that Washington Hospital’s Community Cancer Program has met all five general elements that make a successful program:

  • The clinical services provide state-of-the-art pretreatment evaluation, staging, treatment and clinical follow-up for cancer patients seen at the facility for primary, secondary, tertiary, or quaternary care.
  • The cancer committee leads the program through setting goals, monitoring activity, evaluating patient outcomes, and improving care.
  • The cancer conferences provide a forum for patient consultation and contribute to physician education.
  • The quality improvement program is the mechanism for evaluating and improving patient outcomes.
  • The cancer registry and database is the basis for monitoring the quality of care.

By receiving the OAA, Washington Hospital has received full compliance with CoC standards, as well as demonstrating commendation level compliance with one or more standards.

The standards for commendation rating – meaning the program has exceeded the standards for accreditation – are:

  • Community outreach – prevention and early detection programs
  • Research enrollment
  • Staff education
  • Patient care improvements
  • Outcome analysis
  • Cancer Registry quality (counted as two measures)

Looking at the whole picture

"A key factor for Washington Hospital is the relationship with the physicians who provide complete treatment information which is captured in the Tumor Registry, enabling the Cancer Committee to evaluate the care of its patients," Heltzel explains.

She adds that because cancer treatment is often rendered in physicians’ offices, collaboration between the treating physicians and program staff is vital.

"Without complete information the committee could not evaluate the total care of the patient," she says.

And it is total care of each patient that makes the program successful, according to Dr. Sharma.

"Cancer care is a very comprehensive process," Dr. Sharma says. "And because the CoC looks at the entire cancer program, with a single level of accreditation you get information about the entire program. As a patient, you might say, ‘I’m going to have my breast surgery by the best breast surgeon,’ but that program might not have the best radiologist or pathologist.

"This achievement award gives patients access to information about quality that might be hidden. By having this accreditation and by achieving the award, we really had to demonstrate that at each step of care the patients goes through the participating providers adhere to a certain standard of quality."

Dedication to excellence

Dr. Sharma says that receiving accreditation by the ACS is one thing, but receiving the Outstanding Achievement Award is another. In fact, fewer than 35 percent of the programs surveyed nationally receive this prestigious award, according to Heltzel.

"This recognition gets the message across that this is an institution dedicated to excellence," Dr. Sharma says. "It shows a level of commitment by the hospital and administration to cancer care in the community. This award doesn’t simply indicate that we have the best surgical or radiation outcomes. It’s also about screening, prevention, education – all the individual little pieces of cancer care that may not be apparent, things the patient may not realize are important."

According to Heltzel, receiving the Outstanding Achievement Award required a coming together of all the different members of the Community Cancer Program who are responsible for the elements that make up the program:

  • Diagnostic, including clinical laboratory, diagnostic imaging, and pathology
  • Treatment, including medical oncology, radiation oncology and surgical procedures
  • Other clinical, including American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) staging, clinical research, patient guidelines, oncology nursing and pain management
  • Rehabilitation
  • Support, including counseling, discharge planning, hospice care, nutritional support, pastoral care and patient and family support
  • Prevention, early detection, and genetic counseling and testing

With the many different elements that make cancer care successful, Dr. Sharma says it’s the people that place Washington’s cancer program a step above.

"I think what separates Washington’s program is the commitment of physicians, staff and hospital administration to work together as a team to ensure the best level of cancer care," she says. "Everybody recognizes that for cancer care, the whole is more than just the sum of the parts. We really enjoy working with each other; our team is very collegial. There’s a culture of wanting success and superior outcomes for our patients. We recognize that caring for our patients won’t be optimal if the whole process isn’t outstanding."

But perhaps the most important element of Washington’s Community Cancer Program, Dr. Sharma says, is patients’ ability to access excellent care in their community.

"Our goal is to give patients quality health care and allow them to continue their lives," she says. "If you feel like, ‘It’s going to take me three hours to commute across the Bay for five-hour treatment,’ it really disrupts your life. We provide that outstanding level of care, allowing people to feel comfortable continuing to live their lives while receiving care in a center ranked in the top 10 percent nationally."

"We believe excellent care should be for everybody."

Dr. Sharma adds that this extends to clinical trials as well.

"We have a fairly robust clinical trials program, and when standard therapies fail, our patients will have access to clinical trials close to home."

To learn more about Washington Hospital’s Community Cancer Program, visit http://www.whhs.com/cancer/community-cancer-program/.

To learn more about the CoC and its accreditation program, visit http://www.facs.org/cancerprogram/index.html.

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